On May 31st, at around 1 am, a member of the boy band Big Bang, Daesung, was involved in a traffic accident. Daesung accidentally ran over a motorbike rider named Hyun who was lying in the street because of a previous accident. It was unclear whether or not Hyun was already dead before Daesung’s car ran him over.
On June 24th, the Yeongdeungpo Police Station held a press conference in which they revealed what they believe happened, according to an investigation by forensic scientists at the National Institute of Scientific Investigation (NISI). Hyun met a friend at a restaurant where they had some food and soju (Korean liquor). Hyun got on his motorbike and drove (presumably home). His blood alcohol level was 0.186%. (The legal limit is 0.05 percent.) Hyun collided with a lamp post and was knocked off his bike. Despite wearing a safety helmet, the impact was enough to hurt him. As he lay on the street dazed, some cars drove by him. One taxi drove by, but then pulled over. As the taxi driver was getting ready to help Hyun, Daesung (who was driving at 70-to-80 km/hr, over the speed limit of 60 km/hr) accidentally ran Hyun over and then collided with with the taxi. (Korea Times, Times again, Korea Herald, AllKPop, SeoulBeats, Joongang Daily; image and video below are from AllKPop)
So what now? Daesung is expected to face charges of involuntary manslaughter, which carry maximum penalties of five years in jail or 20 million won (approx. $20,000).
How about in the long term? I look to Vince Neil for comparisons and contrasts. In 1984, Neil, the lead singer for the heavy metal band Motley Crue, drove while under the influence of alcohol, leading to a head-on collision that killed a passenger of his car and brain damage to two passengers of the other car. Neil was sentenced to to 30 days in jail, five years probation, $2.6 million in restitution to the victims of the crash and 200 hours of community service. In 1989, Motley Crue released Dr. Feelgood, which became Crue’s most successful album ever. However, I don’t think that Daesung’s career can recover the way that Neil’s did. Crue was a heavy metal band with a reputation for being “bad boys.” Daesung, on the other hand, is part of K-pop. Members of Korean boy bands and girl groups have public images that are tightly controlled by their agencies because the Korean public is intolerant of anything controversial. When actor Hong Seok-cheon came out of the closet, he was immediately fired from all of his acting jobs, and he remains the only prominent Korean actor to have come out of the closet. By contrast, Lada Gaga has not only come out of the closet as a bisexual person, but the title track of her latest album has lyrics that say, “I was born this way …” For this reason, whenever K-pop stars appear on TV shows, it’s always to talk about their “ideal type” (seriously, how many f***ing times do they ask that question?) or to tell funny stories, like how one of their members fell asleep in a toilet cubicle. It’s never, and never will be, about their opinions or anything else that gives them any depth of character. It’s all superficial, all about S-lines, V-lines, “chocolate abs,” and the like. Recall that Krystal, a member of the girl group f(x), was savaged by netizens for allegedly not showing enough interest in what an elder was saying. Just imagine if she had, for example, told her elder, “I’m sorry but I disagree with your viewpoint on same-sex marriages.”
This brings me to my next point. Why do Korean entertainment agencies love boy bands and girl groups? Because their members are interchangeable and expendable. Unlike music bands which have guitarists, drummers, and singers, all members of K-pop groups do the same thing, that is, sing and dance. If a member leaves or is kicked out, the group can continue. Look at how the Wonder Girls and 2PM have continued on without Sun-mi and Park Jae-bom (now known as Jay Park). Jewelry continues to exist, but without a single original member. The same thing happened to Baby Vox. Dong-bang-shin-ki (DBSK, known as TVXQ in Japan) is now a duo now that three of the original five members have left to form their own group, JYJ. When it looked like three of the five members of KARA would leave the group, their entertainment agency filed to trademark the group’s name. To entertainment agencies, boy bands are girl groups are just money-making machines, and individual members are just replaceable cogs. Can you imagine the Rolling Stones without Keith Richards or Mick Jagger? Of course not. How about the Who without Roger Daltrey or Pete Townshend? Or the Beatles without one of the original members (and yes, that includes Ringo). Led Zeppelin chose to break up after John Bonham passed away. Yes, Deep Purple and Guns n’ Roses don’t have Ritchie Blackmore or Slash anymore, but unsurprisingly, they haven’t been very successful, critically or commercially, without them. In K-pop boy bands and girl groups, however, all members do the same thing (singing and dancing), and so if any members leave, the agency has a queue of trainees ready to replace them.
Of the “Big Three” entertainment agencies, YG Entertainment seems to me to be the most humane and the most caring of their artists and of their music, so I expect them to be as supportive of Daesung as possible. However, they are a company, not a charity, and despite their ambitions abroad, they live or die in Korea, by Korean society’s rules. As much as I’d like to see Korean society forgive Daesung for making a mistake that any young man his age could have made, I don’t expect it.
Some of you might recall that Daesung had the misfortune of being in another car accident in August 2009 (it was his manager who was driving). He strikes me as a true artist who takes his craft seriously and tries to broaden his horizons. He starred in the Korean version of Cats.
He’s also made trot songs. (Trot could be described as a kind of dance music for middle-aged Koreans, and is somewhat similar to Japan’s enka.) The first time I heard him sing “너무 섹시! 너무 귀엽다!” (at 2:15 of the video below) I almost fell out my seat laughing.